Throughout my life I've witnessed jumping spiders in action doing some amazing things. This morning I watched this one hauling itself eight feet up a thread of silk from the ground to the corner of the kitchen window shutter with another jumping spider of the same variety–as big or bigger than it–clamped in its fangs. Unfortunately, I didn't get to the camera and outside in time to shoot that high-wire action and only managed to catch it after it had gained firm purchase on a vertical face of shutter trim. Very cool creatures, always full of inspirational surprises. I think they may be my spirit animal, the ᎧᎿᏁᏍᎩ (ka-hna-ne-s-gi)–as my great great grandmother would have called it–and sight of this jumping spider today sparked memory of the first time I ever saw one in action.
On a particularly sweltering midsummer day when I was seven years old I lay sprawled out on our front porch, shirtless and barefoot wearing only a pair of Sears-brand khaki shorts and a fine sheen of sweat, attempting to keep as much bare skin in contact with the cool cement floor as possible. I was bored to tears and feeling fairly angry about that since summer vacation time was burning with nothing interesting to do around the house or the neighborhood. I wanted to go to the swimming pool just outside town at the city park that day but Mom said no for some reason or other I could not fathom. Looking across the street, I could see the grade school I would all-too-soon be returning to for my second miserable year in the horrid US public school system. Time was wasting.
With my head situated near one of the corner posts supporting the porch roof–cheek pressed to the floor–I stared blankly at the base of it where it had rotted some from years of rainwater seeping between it and the floor. I could almost see underneath the post into the dark space where it was probably a lot cooler than where I was with late-afternoon sunlight bathing the porch space. I longed for evening time when delightful coolness returned and my brothers and sister and I would play gleefully in twilight until called inside for the night.
I tried to remember if it was Twilight Zone or Outer Limits night, always enjoying any episode of either TV show before bedtime. The stranger the better. I loved weird, scary stories and began recalling some of my favorites as my mind wandered down that winding path of thought. Then a housefly suddenly landed on the concrete near the base of the corner post, and just as suddenly, a jumping spider leapt out from the darkness beneath the post and grabbed the fly–skillfully jabbing its fangs into the winged insect before it could even think about taking flight to escape. I felt my eyelids widen considerably in shocked amazement and stayed as still as I could, resisting an urge to call out for someone to come see what I was seeing, fearful of frightening the spider away from its gloriously gruesome task. I held my breath as it pumped venom into the fly then proceeded to process it for storage, wrapping it in a glistening white straightjacket of spider silk and fervently wondered what the spider was thinking. What is was feeling.
My body stopped feeling the oppressive afternoon heat as I tried to get into the spider's head. I wanted to be the spider. To understand it and experience the world as it did. To see through its amazing array of eight eyes arranged around the top of its head. I didn't particularly want to experience the taste of housefly but wondered what it was like a little bit anyway, as a spider would. Did it consider that insect a delicacy? Were its bodily juices especially delectable for a jumping spider's arachnid taste buds?
The spider finished wrapping the fly and seemed to rest in peaceful, post-hunt satisfaction for a moment before retreating without turning around, dragging its bagged prey back beneath the corner post into its shadowy, secret lair to dine on–now or later, I thought–and giggled at that as an image of one of my favorite candy bars sold at the swimming pool concession popped into my head. I decided a banana-flavored Now & Later or maybe a Big Hunk would be what I would dine on next time Mom took us to the swimming pool. And as I happily gnawed away on either of them upon that occasion, I would recall the scene that just unfolded before my eyes in garish, close-up detail.
Twenty years later, that vivid scene and the burning desire to get inside the jumping spider's head would become inspiration for the main opening scene of my first concerted attempt at writing speculative fiction.